Steven Sebring and Coco Rocha’s Visual Manifesto of the Human Body

“Don’t just stand there, let’s get to it. Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it,” Madonna lied and “Vogue”-ed way back in 1990. Contrary to popular opinion, posing is hard work, made even harder by the requirement to look effortless. The reigning “Queen of Pose,” Canadian supermodel Coco Rocha has been clocked at 160 different poses per minute and viral videoed striking 50 poses in 30 seconds. When photographer Steven Sebring approached Rocha back in 2010 with the idea of a project involving one model striking a thousand different poses captured using Sebring’s revolutionary, 360-degree photographic technology, it seemed a match made in modeling heaven. Study of Pose: 1,000 Poses by Coco Rocha tests the limits of expression by the human form while capitalizing on the latest in technology to produce no less than a new manifesto on posing the human body as an object to be both admired and accepted for all its truth and beauty.

 

“Don’t just stand there, let’s get to it. Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it,” Madonna lied and “Vogue”-ed way back in 1990. Contrary to popular opinion, posing is hard work, made even harder by the requirement to look effortless. The reigning “Queen of Pose,” Canadian supermodel Coco Rocha has been clocked at 160 different poses per minute and viral videoed striking 50 poses in 30 seconds. When photographer Steven Sebring approached Rocha back in 2010 with the idea of a project involving one model striking a thousand different poses captured using Sebring’s revolutionary, 360-degree photographic technology, it seemed a match made in modeling heaven. Study of Pose: 1,000 Poses by Coco Rocha tests the limits of expression by the human form while capitalizing on the latest in technology to produce no less than a new manifesto on posing the human body as an object to be both admired and accepted for all its truth and beauty.


From the very beginning of her modeling career in 2002, Rocha’s still poses have been based in movement. An agent approached the lanky, then-14-year-old Canadian at an Irish dance competition and offered her a chance to model. Since then, Rocha’s brought her dance training to the studio. “Models have only their movement to tell the story in a very concentrated moment,” Jean Paul Gaultier, one of the many designers for whom Rocha’s modeled, writes in his foreword to Study of Pose. “There are few models who do this successfully, and the ones who do give life and meaning to the clothing, as fabric alone has no significance.” Where some believe that the clothes make the person, Gaultier counters that the person makes the clothes through the charisma of gesture and movement.

Similarly, Sebring holds that movement is key to any image. Describing his initial ideas for the project in his introduction, Sebring explains, “I wanted to document the fluid, ever-changing beauty of the ever-flexible human form… I needed someone capable of believably pulling off everything from an Isadora Duncan-inspired move to a Veruschka gravity-defying leap.” To document these still yet “moving” images, Sebring developed an “orbiting photographic process” he formally called the “Revolution,” but informally referred to as “the Rig.” By encircling the subject with one hundred synchronized cameras linked to sophisticated software, Sebring creates “amazing, ephemeral images of multilayered time, space, and matter of the fourth-dimensional world.” “[C]aptured in a single revolution” these images “continue to astound as they are like nothing that has ever been seen before,” Sebring boasts.

“[W]e shot more than a thousand poses—or 100,000 photographs in total—in only three days,” Sebring writes of the photoshoot for Study of Pose. As Sebring and Rocha’s husband James whispered from the sidelines prompts such as Marilyn Monroe, Venus de Milo, Grace Jones, an old man, and Jessica Rabbit, Rocha would interpret those ideas physically for Sebring’s “Rig.” “We all stood by dumbfounded as she seemed to perform music with her body,” Sebring describes his experience of Rocha’s virtuoso performance. “When Coco poses, she tells a story with every gesture.” The results, found on every page of Study of Pose, range “from ballet to Elvis and everything in between,” Sebring writes.

I’ll admit to some personal cynicism over the possibility that one model, even one as talented as Rocha, could strike a thousand distinct, interesting poses. I jokingly envisioned something along the lines of Ben Stiller’s IQ-challenged title character in the film Zoolander  naming poses “Blue Steel” or “Ferrari” but never deviating from that single pouty look. Where Zoolander thrived by riffing on all the standard model stereotypes, Study of Pose thrives thanks to Rocha’s riffing from her personal storehouse of intellectual, emotional, and physical versatility.

As you begin paging through Study of Pose you find yourself caught up in each picture’s story. Here’s “fierce” embodied by Rocha literally flying through the air with a predatory look on her features as well as her limbs. Here’s “comic” as Coco channels her inner child overjoyed, overstimulated, or overwhelmed—all with over-the-top eyes and gestures. Yet, within those extremes of fear and fun, you’ll also find poses classical in their beauty (such as the example shown above) in which Rocha transforms herself into living sculpture by contorting her graceful limbs into interesting shapes and lines that would be the envy of any sculptor or dancer.

But where’s my fourth dimension, you may ask? Well, there’s an app for that (or at least one will be released for sale soon). The app will allow users to take the two-dimensional pose from the page and rotate it through 360-degrees thanks to Sebring’s “Revolution” technology. So, if 1,000 poses weren’t enough for you, or if you wish one of those poses were turned just a little bit more to the left, then this app will offer you almost a limitless number of poses to choose from. Aspiring artists hoping to study the human form will never find a better resource (or a better model, for that matter) than Study of Pose.

Aside from her talent, however, Coco Rocha brings the right spirit to the project thanks to her advocacy for more realism in modeling. Even supermodels get the blues, especially when they’re body shamed like us mere mortals. “I’m a 21 year old model, 6 inches taller and 10 sizes smaller than the average American woman,” Rocha wrote on her blog back in 2010. “Yet in another parallel universe I’m considered ‘fat.’” In that same post, Rocha railed against models under the age of 16 not just for how they are exploited, but also for how that practice adds unattainable youth to the already pervasive problem of unattainable thinness. A year later, in 2011, Rocha advocated for an end to excessive retouching of photographs, usually, again, to make the model look impossibly thin. “I do hope that this campaign might help some in our industry stop and think about what the public really wants to see before they shrink another model down to an impossible size,” Rocha blogged.

“A fit, healthy body—that is the best fashion statement,” author and artist Jess C. Scott once wrote. Study of Pose: 1,000 Poses by Coco Rocha is more than just a statement; it’s a manifesto on the beauty of the human body and a celebration of being comfortable in your skin. Yes, Coco Rocha is impossibly beautiful and inconceivably skilled at using her body, but you come away from Study of Pose not intimidated by those realities, but rather inspired by how you can use the realities of your own body in a similar way. Thanks to Steven Sebring’s photography, you can see for yourself possibilities you never imagined before. So, strike a pose. There’s everything to it.

[Image: Still of Coco Rocha posing in Study of Pose: 1,000 Poses by Coco Rocha.]

[Many thanks to Harper Collins for providing me with the image above and a review copy of Study of Pose: 1,000 Poses by Coco Rocha by Steven Sebring and Coco Rocha, with a foreword by Jean Paul Gaultier.]

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. Think a dialysis machine for the mind. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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